HSY2 19It’s been an amazing few weeks for me and my family. If I could sum up what I’m feeling in one word, it would be: gratitude.

I just finished my fourth and final youth conference of the summer. I always struggle to find words to express that experience: awesome, life-changing, unforgettable. Even though the theme and the content is consistent, every weekend is unique. The teens are different each conference and the group takes on its own “personality.” Some like to rock. Some are more contemplative. Others are hesitant but then they jump in.

IMG_2362These past few weekends gave me the opportunity to see a lot of amazing young people who are trying to boldly live their faith. I love taking pictures and signing autographs, but it’s the small conversations with someone who has been really touched by something I’ve said, sung, or written that warm my heart and encourage me to keep doing what I do.

One of my most special moments was when I met three teens who made me this amazing t-shirt! If you can’t see, it’s got the “at the intersection of Catholicism and culture” sign from my blog, a bow tie on the neck, and “Between the Savior and the Sea” at the bottom. On the back it says, “All for the Love of God,” has their names, and they also wrote “35 Day Spiritual Workout since 2011!” So thank you Jenny Schmid and Sarah and Michelle Sherman for such a thoughtful gift. I’m thrilled to have blessed your life!

Speaking of the 40-Day Spiritual Workout, I’m told that almost ten thousand teens have signed up and are doing it right now! That’s amazing!!! I’m praying for all of you who are growing strong in your faith through it, and so grateful that something I did is blessing so many.

You never know how what you do can impact somebody. I was blown away when I was being interviewed by Mark Newman, the founder of Cross Roads Radio, when he said that my music was one of the major inspirations for starting that station! Wow. (If you haven’t checked them out, you really should! Click HERE for great music.)

Since I’m on the topic of music, I’m thrilled that my kickstarter project for “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice” is 87% there! It’s been fun to play the music live (new video coming tomorrow) and get such great feedback. I feel pretty confident it’s going to be successful and the thought of creating a CD debt free really blows me away. A few months ago I despaired that it wasn’t going to happen (the money I had saved up had been eaten by medical expenses.) And now, thank’s to the goodness of God and the generosity of folks like you, I’ll get to record music that blesses lots of people. Especially my family!

But the music is only as good as the musicians and I’ve been blessed all summer to play with not only amazing musicians but incredible people: Andrew, Amanda, Andre, Dan, Emily, Kevin, and Matt. They’ve also been super helpful with creating the music videos I’ve been posting every week to promote the album. Thanks guys!

Not only do I play with amazing people on stage, (see how much I have to be grateful for?) I also get to hang with some of the coolest folks in Catholic ministry. Some are friends I’ve been connecting with for years, others are new friends I look forward to doing more ministry with in the future. I was on the phone with a friend of mine who used to speak at conferences and is now full time in homeless ministry. He said, “I don’t miss speaking at youth conferences, but I do miss the community of it.” Though I travel around the country throughout the year preaching and singing, I’m usually the main event. The conferences are a cool time where I’m part of a great team of people who do the same thing I do. It’s really special, and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.

IMG_2364As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this is my 20th summer doing youth conferences. They have been a source of God’s blessing for me. That’s what brought me to Steubenville in the first place, where I met my wife, got me involved in national ministry, and now I work here! If you would have told me 20 years ago that I was going to end up moving to Steubenville, get a Master’s degree, be a college professor, speak nationally and internationally, write books, and lead worship for over ten thousand people each summer… well, I don’t know what I would have said. It would have been more than I could have hoped for.

But all that pales in comparison to the blessing that is my family. Yesterday was my oldest son’s 15th birthday, and a week ago was my youngest son’s birthday. Being a husband and father is, by far, the second greatest blessing of my life.

The first? That’s easy. Being loved by God.

“How can I repay the Lord for all the great good He has done for me? I will offer a sacrifice of praise and call on the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 116:12, 17.)

The summer’s not done yet! I’ve got three more great adult conferences that I’m looking forward to and I’m excited to see how the “Gospel” CD will turn out. But this seemed like a great moment to praise God for everything He’s doing in my life and thank all of you who support what I do with your encouragement and prayers.

I’m so grateful!!!

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“My old heart that loved sin died 2,000 years ago.”

I was mentoring a friend through a bible-study designed for people with addictions (settingcaptivesfree.com,) and that phrase jumped of my computer screen and pierced my heart. It was a reflection on the famous words of St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20.)

This was a common theme of St. Paul. In his letter to the Romans, he wrote, “We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person have been absolved from sin,” (Romans 6:6-7.)

A dead person has been absolved from sin! We are freed from the sting of sin and death because we already died—2,000 years ago with Christ! St. Paul exhorts us, “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

This song, “2,000 Years Ago,” is a celebration of that great truth.

Thanks to Andrew Laubacher on guitar and Dan Bozek on bass. And special guest was Tim Hepburn, my former drummer who now plays with the kickin’ Celtic band, Synthian. It was fun to play with him again.

And here’s the obligatory pitch: I’d love to record this song on my new CD, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice,” but I need your help! Visit my kickstarter page and help if you can. You can preorder the music, get an autographed copy, get an exclusive t-shirt, even get your name in the CD!

I’ve been thrilled with the donations this past week. We’ve passed the half way mark and are almost at $6K of the $9K goal. The fundraising ends July 31st, and if I don’t hit the target, I’ll get none of it. So please, donate if you haven’t yet and spread the word to people you think might be interested in supporting Catholic music.

And thank you, thank you, thank you to all who have supported the project so far! Enjoy the song!

 

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Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, St. Maria Goretti. As a young man, I had two medals on my scapular: one was St. Joseph, and the other was St. Maria Goretti. Her story of purity, faith, and forgiveness is one of the most inspiring stories of a teenage saint that I know of. I named my daughter after her (and named her “twin” Joseph.) And when I had a chance to write a script about purity, I knew exactly what two people I’d love to write about.

This picture was drawn by an amazingly talented friend who wished to remain anonymous. And the video was produced by my good friends at Outside Da Box.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

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It was the summer of 1994 when I first set foot on campus at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. I had been hired to speak at a Steubenville Youth Conference, something I hadn’t even heard of until a few months before. At that time I had been playing concerts and working at an improv comedy club in Orlando, Florida, “The City Beautiful.” So pulling into the polluted air of “The City of Murals” was quite a shock. “I could never live here,” I thought.

And somewhere up in heaven, God laughed.

That was the first summer Steubenville had two youth conferences. Other locations for youth conferences hadn’t started yet. I was there to help a group of students called the “Work Crew” (which later became “Young Apostles”) and do some comedy to lighten the mood of the weekend. I and another friend dressed up like friars—I was Brother Steub, he was brother Ville, and together we were Brothers Steub and Ville. We kept saying things like, “Back in Vatican I, before there was a sequel, we didn’t kneel on grass. We knelt on broken glass! And we loved it!” Oddly enough I got asked back the next year. And the next. And I’ve been involved in youth conferences in almost every different role a guy can do (speaking, hosting, entertainment, giving workshops, speaking at men’s sessions, I even spoke at a women’s session once, and leading music)  for the past 20 summers. It has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

That first summer, I heard our blessed Mother speak to my heart while I was praying the rosary. She told me to drop everything and move to Steubenville. I didn’t hesitate—I knew God’s will was always the best. I thought it was to do youth ministry, but God had even more planned for me. I completed my Masters in Theology and met my wife, who I married in the campus chapel in 1997. And after 7 years of youth ministry in Latham, NY, Franciscan asked me back to be a part of the faculty to teach about two things I was passionate about: Scripture and Youth Ministry.

I took over the music ministry for the on campus conferences in 2005. Once again, it was something I never expected to do. I had done plenty of concerts before, but lead an entire weekend of worship? I had spent the previous years hosting conferences and really enjoyed doing that. But once again, I knew God’s plan was the best, and I’ve been so grateful to play music that has blessed tens of thousands of people!

This summer the conference office wanted to audition a new worship band and asked if I wouldn’t mind hosting the conference instead of playing it. I love doing music but I was thrilled to have a chance to host again—I hadn’t done it in eight years. And by God’s providence, that was the first conference that my oldest son was attending. Jon Niven (the musician for that conference) invited me on stage on Sunday AM to play one of my “classic” songs: Behold the Lamb, the theme song from 1997. For me, it was the perfect ending for that weekend, and a great moment of nostalgia as I thought about the 20 years I’ve been blessed to sing and speak from that stage.

I few years ago, I got over the shocking revelation that I had been doing ministry longer than all the teens in the room had been born. I don’t feel old at all—I feel young. I love sharing the love of God with young people, using every talent I’ve been blessed with.

I got asked a number of times, “which do you like better, hosting or leading worship?” Do I have to choose? I’m thrilled to do them both. But I have to admit, there is nothing more exciting for me than to tell people about how Christ died for them and be the person who gets to invite them into a deeper relationship with Him. I had a chance to do that this summer, and I’m grateful for the friendly folks at steubenville.org who caught it on tape:

I know that many people are blessed by the Steubenville summer conferences, but I can’t imagine anyone more blessed by them than me. Praise God!

When I first started typing the description of the video, I wrote, “I think I did a good job playing with myself.” And then I fell over laughing.

All of my great-grandparents are from Ireland and I’ve always had an affinity for Celtic music. The style of accordion that I play is heavily influenced by that genre. And while there’s a bit of that Irish style in a lot of my music, I never went all-out until I wrote, “Let This Be A Church Again.”

A few years ago, a “Church Brew-works” opened up in Pittsburgh and my wife really wanted to go. The Catholic Church had been decommissioned (is that the word for it?) and they turned it into a restaurant and bar. The place was packed, probably more packed than it had been on Sundays. I felt really uncomfortable while eating there. It was all legit, of course. The restaurant hadn’t done anything wrong—in fact it probably helped the diocese by purchasing the building. But in the big picture, I felt like we had lost something.

I had that same feeling when I was asked to speak in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I spoke at a college that renovated a chapel for it’s lecture hall. It felt so right to preach the Gospel there… it was if the walls themselves were urging me on, rejoicing to hear the message they were created to echo. It was a powerful experience. That’s where the idea for the song first came from. I jotted down a few lyrics then, but the song was left unfinished for a while.

Then last month I went to a Reliant K concert that was in a place called the “Altar Bar,” a renovated Church that featured a very extensive drinking selection and some pretty loud music. And though Reliant K is a Christian band, the line up of the other artists who were going to preform there in the next few months were anything but. That’s what pulled the trigger for me to finish the tune.

“Don’t get me wrong by the tone of this song.” This song isn’t so much to slam pubs as to hope for a world where there are so many faithful people that have to turn bars into Churches instead of the other way around. But that won’t happen unless we first change our hearts.

If you like this song, please help me record it by donating to my kickstarter project, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice.” Thanks again to all who have pledged money so far. We’re almost 30% there!

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Here’s a song that will be off the new CD, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice.” It’s called “Never Been Disappointed” and it’s based on Habakkuk 2:3, “For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint.”

I recorded it at the Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville, June 2013. I asked Meg, a staff photographer, if she could do video, and she said, “I’m not used to it, but I’ll try!” It’s me on accordion, Andrew Laubacher on electric guitar, Kevin Mahon on percussion, and Dan Bozek on bass. Not pictured are Amanda Enriquez and Emily Mislan on background vocals, and Matthew Fox on violin. They were off to the side.

Though there’s hand percussion and the recording will feature a full kit, I think song represents the “sound” I’m going for on the CD. Hope you are blessed by it! If you haven’t donated yet, please help make this project happen by clicking HERE, and if you have—thanks, and spread the word!

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Last weekend I had the chance to worship with two thousand teenagers from across the country to came to Franciscan University for the first summer youth conference! It was an amazing weekend, and I was so grateful to be a part of it!

For those of you who were there, I’m praying for you. To have a strong spiritual life, you can’t rest on the “high” that you felt from spending the weekend with so many other people your age—you’ve got to dive right in. To help with that, I created a 40-day devotional called, “40-Day Spiritual Workout.” You can get it as a free iPhone app HERE, or you can buy the book HERE. You’ll also be able to sign up for daily emails through steubenville.org—that’s still under construction right now but hopefully will be available soon.

And for those asking about some of the new original music I played this weekend, it’s off my new CD, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice” which I’m fundraising through kickstarter.com. Please help me by clicking HERE.

On Sunday (hence me wearing my Sunday best,) Keith jumped on stage with his camera and caught a little bit of  us playing “Days of Elijah.” Hope you enjoy!

20130607-201541.jpgFriends, I’m proud to announce my newest CD: The Gospel Accordion To Bob Rice. Or at least I’d like to announce the idea of it.

It doesn’t yet exist. I was planning on recording it a few months ago, but then the medical bills came in. Some were for good reasons (new baby girl Rice arriving July 15th. Hooray!) Some, not so good (Bobby broke his femur and requires additional surgeries. Ack!)

So I asked The Lord what to do about this lack of money/desire to record a new CD. And I decided to put the project on Kickstarter.

For those of you who don’t know that that is, Kickstarter is a website where I can raise money for this project. I need $9000 to make the CD. If I can raise it, I can do it. But if I can’t raise all of it I don’t get any of it. The Kickstarter fundraising ends July 31st, so that’s how much time I have to do it, if it’s going to happen at all.

I planned on doing this over June and July because I’m in front of a lot of people through the Steubenville Summer Conferences. But unfortunately, I only recently found out that Franciscan has a policy of not announcing any fundraising efforts from the stage (I totally understand why.) So for those of you who wondered why I didn’t say something about it at the conference… well, now you know.

I feel very peaceful about this. If it happens, that will be great. But if it doesn’t, that’s also cool. I think there’s some pretty cool tunes that will end up on it… but do you want to hear any of them?

If you do, CLICK HERE TO GO TO MY KICKSTARTER PAGE. There’s more information about the CD, and I’ll also be adding demos of the music as I make them.

Thanks for your help and your prayers!

There is an important difference between religious respect and religious relativism. The former demands a charitable attitude that acknowledges the movement of God in every human heart; the latter shrugs its shoulders and says that every religion is really the same. Showing respect gives dignity to the believer; religious relativism is patronizing.

The New Atheist movement, allegedly unbiased because those involved don’t believe in any religion (which is the worst bias off all,) argue other religions should all get along with one another because there’s no way to say that one religion is more valid than another. Essentially, we should see our religious beliefs as our opinion and we should respect other people’s opinions, just like we might differ on tastes in movies and food.

Should people of different faiths find ways to charitably live with each other? Of course. And since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has been a world leader in gathering people of different faiths together and has been one of the strongest  advocates for religious freedom in every continent. But we don’t do that because we think what we believe is just our opinion. We do it because of our love for all humanity, no matter what they believe. We do it because of our faith, not in spite of it.

Though we share many things in common with other beliefs, we also acknowledge important differences. Those differences help us define our faith. And at the heart of Christianity is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

This historical event makes Christianity unique among other world religions. With the exception of Judaism, the many of the doctrines and stories of other faiths have come from private revelations. An angel spoke to Muhammad (Islam.) One also spoke to Joseph Smith (Mormonism.) And though private revelations are a part of our Deposit of Faith, the historical reality of how God revealed Himself to the world is what they are grounded on. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

Those who are Jewish acknowledge that Jesus existed and, though he taught many good things, He was not God—He did not rise from the dead. Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet, but also say He was not God—He did not rise from the dead. There are many core values and beliefs that Christians share with Jews and Muslims, and the Catholic Church teaches that we all pray to the same God, though we have a different understanding of Him. But that’s not to say that one religion is the same as another.

There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. There was an historical event that has to be accounted for. This is more than a parable or a fictitious story. History records that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by Rome and then the body disappeared. His believers claimed to have seen Him risen from the dead, and almost all of those were tortured and killed because of their belief.

Alternatives for the resurrection don’t make sense. Was the body stolen by His followers? Unlikely Rome would let that slide without more crucifixions. Perhaps Jesus didn’t die, just fainted? This is known as the “swoon” theory and is even more unlikely than the “stolen” one. It seems impossible that a man who underwent such torture could wake up, roll away the stone himself, and then… overcome Roman guards?

And what of the martyrdom of His followers, who underwent painful deaths vowing that Christ had risen? If you were lying about something like that, at what point do break? None of them did.

In the wake of the resurrection, Christianity was persecuted by sects of Judaism and Romans. If either of these two groups could have produced the body of Jesus that would have ended the argument. But they didn’t. They couldn’t.

Because there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

No matter how much we might agree with people of other faiths or people of good will, we believe that it is a fact that Jesus Christ, Son of God, rose from the dead. That defines who we are. And it divides us from other beliefs.

Jesus Christ either rose from the dead or He didn’t. This isn’t a matter of opinion that we can “agree to disagree” on. To raise the stakes even higher: it means that Christianity is either right, or it is wrong.

There is a reason why Easter is the highest holy feast of the Church. Everything in human history led to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and everything has followed from it since. It was the moment that made us who we are. This was the moment that revealed the depths of God’s love for us. This was the moment that made salvation possible. Sin and death were conquered. The Church perpetually participates in this moment at every Mass. The Sacraments all flow from this event.

So if we shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, I think it happened, but maybe it didn’t,” then Christianity is replaced with, “Jesus was a good teacher who taught us to love each other.”

The Jews would agree with this. The Muslims would agree with this. Even the atheists would agree with this. There is a lot of pressure for those who follow Christ make that the “Good News” and to stop focusing on the divisive issue of the resurrection.

But there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

The Good News of Jesus Christ was not just to love each other. It was also about how much God loves us and what He did to save us from our sin. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that through Him we might be saved” (John 3:16-17.) Jesus Christ, second person of the Trinity, Word of God made flesh, came to die for our sins. “For this is proof of God’s love for us: that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8.) And as we say at Mass, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory!”

The historical reality of the empty tomb points to another truth: Jesus will come again in glory. And at that time, there will be no “opinions” about God. We will know Him as He is.

For now, however, we only know Him partially. We know Him by what He has revealed. We know Him by what He has done. Some would claim because we don’t fully know Him then we don’t know Him at all—but that is absurd. It would be like suggesting a couple who are engaged don’t know anything about each other because they’re not married yet.

Let us unite in Christian charity with people of other faiths or those who have no faith at all. Let us work together for the common good to build a civilization of love. But let us not forget there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem, and that Christ will come again. Let us not be afraid to tell others this “Good News,” and engage in respectful dialogue about what we believe.

For what we believe isn’t just a matter of faith, it’s a matter of fact. And if it’s not, then it’s not worthy to believe in at all.

christ-helping-adam-and-eve-from-their-tomb-flanked-by-saint-john-the-baptist-and-abelThis ancient and anonymous Holy Saturday homily is a part of today’s Office of Readings. So many times, Holy Saturday seems as the “in between” day between Good Friday and the Easter vigil. But we as a Church celebrate something special today. Read on and be inspired:

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.